( File photo )

With harvest starting later this month, cranberry growers are still waiting on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decide on a proposal to cut the allowable amount of fruit marketed in the 2018-19 season by about 25%.

On the recommendation of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, the USDA published a proposed rule in April that would limit the quantity of cranberries from the 2018-19 crop a handler may purchase from growers.

The recommendation was made to prop up prices for growers, but the USDA still hasn’t issued a final rule.

The industry is frustrated with the USDA’s inability to make a decision on the proposal, said Terry Humfeld, executive director of the Cranberry Institute. “We’re ready to start (the harvest) and the USDA hasn’t done anything at all to move this process along,” he said. “Everybody’s a little pessimistic right now because of the USDA’s inability to act,” he said.

Under the proposal, the fruit that would be diverted from the U.S. commercial market could be sold to foreign markets (except Canada), be given to charitable institutions, provide nonhuman food use or simply be used as compost in the field.
Growing inventories of processed cranberries led to the recommendation.

In 2011, existing cranberry inventories were around 4.6 million barrels, but that increased to 9.9 million barrels at the end of the 2016-17 season.

By the end of the 2017-18 season, inventories are projected to be approximately 10.9 million barrels, the proposal said. Inventories as a percentage of total sales have also been increasing from approximately 50% in 2010 to approximately 103% in 2016, and could reach an anticipated 115% after the 2017-18 season. These inventories have had a depressing effect on grower prices, which for many growers have fallen below their cost of production, according to the proposal.

The fresh market supply won’t be compromised, the proposal said.

“This proposal would result in some fruit being taken off the market,” the USDA proposal said. “However, a sufficient amount of fruit would still be available to supply all aspects of the market.”

The proposal, put forward by the Cranberry Marketing Committee in a February vote, would establish a marketable quantity of 7.275 million barrels and a grower allotment percentage of 75% based on their historical production. The proposal exempts organic cranberries.